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this past february, gold star families of 109 Marines, soldiers, sailors or airmen lost in Iraq or Afghanistan since 9/11 came here to network with each other and to help each other with the grieving process. In the past seven years, we have worked with more than 600 Gold Star families. We are blessed that we have the East Bay Chapter of the Blue Star Moms, led by Blue Star Mom Nancy Totman, to help us with the programs. Some years ago, these Blue Star Moms approached us and asked us to help create a way to assist Gold Star parents to network with other Gold Star parents. The result was a 2 ½ day event in September 2006 where the Gold Star parents gathered at the Marines’ Memorial for grief counseling and networking. Our seventh series of events was held 16-18 February 2012.

Each year, we invite a senior military officer to speak to the parents at a banquet on Friday night, with the purpose of lifting the parents’ morale after a heavy, very emotional day of encouraging them to express their pride in their lost loved one. In past years, speak- ers have included General Jim Mattis, General Tom Waldhauser, General Tony Jackson, General Mike Lehnert, and General H.R. McMaster. This year, we invited Lieutenant General John Kelly USMC to speak to the Gold Star families. Gen Kelly and his wife, Karen, are also Gold Star parents, having lost their son, 2ndLt Robert Kelly USMC, on 9 November 2010 in Afghanistan.

On Thursday evening, we held a reception and invited 300 locals to come visit with the Gold Star par- ents. The parents had arrived earlier in the day and set up tables with photos of their sons and daughters when they were 6 months, 6 years, and 16 years old, and when they went into the military. The reception attendees toured the tables and talked with the parents, who were intent on telling the attendees about their children. John and Karen set up a table and then toured all the other tables. Most of the Gold Star parents had no idea who John and Karen were as John was attending in a civilian coat and tie.

Included in the series of events was a memorial ser- vice in the Marines’ Memorial Theatre the next morn- ing. In addition to the Gold Star parents, many sup- porters attended the service. A joint color guard posted the colors. Erich Stratmann sang “The Lord’s Prayer” and “An American Hymn”. A moving slide presenta-

10 Crossroads Spring 2012

tion with pictures of all the fallen put faces with the names and brought the packed theater audience to tears. Gen and Mrs. Kelly attended. John was in uniform and presented Gold Star Banners to the mothers who had not received theirs previously. The last mother he presented a banner to was his wife, Karen. It was an emotional moment.

After the memorial service, the parents attended break-out sessions

with grief counselors and psychologists where they could share their expe- riences and stories, helping them cope with the grief of losing a child. Then at 6 p.m., we held a reception and dinner where Gen Kelly was scheduled to speak. Just before he got up to speak, Gen Kelly leaned over and told me how he found out about his son’s death. He related the fol- lowing:

The Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps (General Joe Dun- ford) rang the doorbell of his home very early the morning of 9 November. Gen Dunford and Gen Kelly became close friends in the mid-1980s at Camp Lejeune in the 2nd Marine Division when Gen Kelly’s son, Robert, was 4 years old. Gen Dunford was dressed in his service alpha uniform (with tie). When Gen Kelly opened the door, Gen Dunford stood there, silent. He couldn’t speak…and he didn’t have to speak. Gen Kelly knew that Gen Dunford was there to tell him that Robert, a 2nd Lt in the Marine Corps, had been killed in action in Afghanistan. When you read Gen Kelly’s speech (at right), you will understand why the entire room of 330 attendees were weeping (including ‘yours truly’).

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